I know without a doubt that I am not unique in listing Pride & Prejudice among my favorites (alongside Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and a certain boy-who-lived-but-shall-remain-nameless-in-this-post. A number of years ago, I read Linda Berdoll’s erotic treatment of Darcy an Elizabeth’s post-nuptial life. Sex-a-plenty, but short on plot, it grew weary after the first few chapters. I therefore approached Longbourn with an intrigued apprehension
I enjoyed Longbourn in the main, but like Berdoll’s work, like so many ‘modernized’ retellings, there are glaringly obvious points that grate on the reader. Longbourn does a credible job of keeping modern ideas out, expect when it doesn’t. I don’t doubt that men of high standing in English society did take lovers outside of marriage, and that some of them were surely servants (given the easy access to them). Sure there were children born out of wedlock, but for God’s sake, not every gentleman was dropping his breeches for housemaids as literature would have us think. Social scientists have looked at the numbers. If sex outside marriage was really as prevalent as literature and television would have us believe, there would have been far more unwanted pregnancies than there were. It is somewhat lazy writing to default to the bastard child of a gentleman story. Having said that though, I’m going to be Mary-Contrary, and say that it was interesting to see a bastard from Mr. Bennett.
On an offhand note, I can’t help feeling that Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Hughes (the housekeeper from Downton Abbey) are very similar. Perhaps it is the breed.
Another glaringly obvious thing that drove me crazy, though thankfully it was not made into a huge deal, was Mr. Hill’s being gay. Why could he just not be a considerate man who married Mrs. Hill because they were friendly? Uncommon though it may be, a man can be more interested in his work than his wife. Can you wee Mr. Collins partaking of coital activity with Charlotte more than the necessary> I think not, unless it was ordered by Lady Catherine, of course. In fact, I think that Lady Catherine is the sort who might want to oversee the act itself.
Sex might be a huge thing, instant gratification and all that, in today’s society, but back in the 19th century, patience was key. Passion abounded in Austen’s writing, as so many in the era (think Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, indecent proposal and all). People did not need to tear off clothes, but even if they wanted to, that would have been a trial, petticoats, and shifts, breeches and topcoats. Perhaps they were too tired from undressing to actually do anything once they were disrobed?
Anticipation is key in a romance novel. Why do you think that the formulaic Harlequin romances wait until the last third of the novel to get their hero and heroine together? Passion and tension fizzle out and die once an act has been performed. Come to think of it, maybe that is my problem with this book. I was so enthusiastic to read it that the actual act of reading was nothing compared to the anticipation, a fatalistic flaw of our instant gratification society. Sorry, Jo.